The Snow Sings

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A winter painting by artist Antoine Bittar that sits above our fireplace.

I wrote a blog post awhile back asking if you were a winter lover or hater. You can read it here if you missed it. I concluded that it was a question of attitude: how willing we are to embrace winter. I realize I am a winter lover, especially when we have an old fashioned winter with plenty of snow.

DECEMBER

I love the deep dark of December. The lights are brighter and the music sweeter because of the dark.

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JANUARY

January is traditionally our coldest month and finds me in full hygge mode. There is always a fire in the fireplace, I have the books I haven’t had time to read  stacked on the coffee table by the couch, a knitting project or two in the basket, and a list of Netflix shows friends have recommended to check out. I am so ready for all of this!

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FEBRUARY

There’s not much that I don’t love about February. I love the peachy light that floods the fields and woods this time of year.

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I love that the sun rises just that much earlier and sets an hour later than it did at solstice. And I love the snow. After my month of hygge in January,  it’s time to get outside and move. The snowshoes and x-country skis are left in the entrance way or by the front door and it doesn’t feel quite right if they aren’t used once a day.

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I especially love ending February outdoor days  having a drink in town in one of the bistros that the after ski crowd frequent. It’s contagious, this enjoying winter thing.

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Mary Oliver, the poet, writes: “The song you heard singing in the leaf when you were a child is singing still.” I’m thinking that the song we heard singing in the snow when we were children is singing still too.  We just have to be outside to hear it.

Life Calls

I haven’t been getting up early to write since my mother became sick and passed away. It didn’t feel right to be back to “normal” when nothing at all felt very normal.  I took care of things that had to be taken care of and I started cooking again, but there was a real reluctance to take up life as before.

That’s why looking out at the post dawn view from my writing place this morning is all the more special.  I’m being called back it seems. It happened slowly. I went for a first walk, looked up at the trees, and remembered being part of something far greater than myself. I knew I had to be outside again. And that’s how skiing has become the great healer for me.

It has helped that it has snowed almost non stop for the last week or so and conditions are just perfect on the network of trails that zig zag through the woods behind our house and beyond.

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A neighbour who owns a massive tract of land has been busy clearing trails and building bridges for the last year or so. The network of trails is so extensive that I feel giddy with excitement at the prospect of exploring a new section each day. The trails are all marked with different colours of  surveyors tape.

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This is the pink trail that runs closest to the back of our house.

It becomes really interesting at the places where the trails meet.

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I don’t know much for certain these days, but I do know that movement and being in nature is the great healer for me. So every day I’ve been clicking my boots into the bindings and heading outside. It feels right.

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Don’t Shoot the Messenger!

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If the news is the first rough draft of history, when did the media become the enemy of the people? Do we not like the history we are living at the moment? The fact checkers and the story tellers have suddenly become the enemy.

I’m very sensitive to media bashing. I’m a bit of a news junkie myself and my daughter works in the media. I know how hard most journalists work to bring us accurate and meaningful stories, sometimes endangering their own lives in the process.

I’ve had two experiences this week that have shone the spotlight on the media. The first was an online discussion about a political event that turned out to be  quite divisive. I could understand the different viewpoints being expressed, but I was shocked that so much anger was being directed at the media who broke the story. Somehow we need someone to blame for our personal discomfort. We feel badly that the stories that are being told are impacting real people and the implications are far reaching. But is the media to blame? Did they deliberately set out to ruin someone or were they telling the stories that are circulating in our culture and need to be resolved?

The second experience I had was going to see the film The Post about the brave decision made by Washington Post owner, Katharine Graham, to publish the Pentagon Papers. The publication of these papers impacted political careers and changed the course of American history. It was a BIG story and was not told without personal risk. Stories are like that sometimes. They need to be told because people deserve to know the facts if they hope to participate meaningfully in the democratic process.

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It is  our responsibility to stay informed and that means following news organizations that have practices in place to fact check, provide multiple sources, and to practice searching out their own biases in order to bring people the very best information available. So you will not hear me crying out fake news and blaming the media for stories that aren’t in alignment with what I want to believe. I check out the best and compare them to each other. Do they err? Sure. But they are also quick to retract when they do. Their agendas are not to bolster fragile egos or maintain the status quo at any cost. They are doing their jobs, and I’m grateful they are.

We’re living in interesting times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Laid Plans….

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I am a planner.  At the start of the new year you can usually find me in a sunny spot in the house with journals and papers and an assortment of coloured pens reflecting on the year that has passed and projecting myself into the year to come.  It’s my way of tying up what has ended and looking forward to what is to come.

Not this year…not part of God’s plan. At the end of the Christmas holidays which were a riot of family and fun, my mother was unexpectedly hospitalized. I received a call in the middle of the first night from the doctor who told me my mother was in respiratory distress and I should come. My mother did not pass away that night as it turns out, but was given another twenty-four days. We both had this time to rest in each other’s presence and for this I am grateful.

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This beautiful lady, who just happens to be my mother, passed away on January 21, 2018. 

Moving into acceptance feels like the opposite of planning to me. It is a much quieter place and doesn’t involve any grand schemes of what might or might not happen in the year to come. It’s about being okay with what is.

Acceptance, it turns out, is not letting me bypass grief or the visceral sense of loss deep in the cells of my body. But it is calling me back to life. Can happiness be that far away?

 

Beauty – an Inside Job

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A detail from “The Birth Of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli.

I’ve been thinking about beauty lately. The other night while I was watching the Golden Globes I saw Frances McDormand with nary a trace of makeup. She looked strong and authentic… and beautiful.

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Beauty, it seems, comes from a far deeper place than winning the genetic lottery and being blessed with chiselled features and high cheekbones. Look at Jane Goodall, an eighty-three year old who has been following her passion for primates her whole life – beautiful.

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And Malala Yousefi who has a face radiating love and kindness… and bone deep beauty.

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I am not an advocate of criticizing people for their appearance. Maybe because I know how hurtful it can be and how we look is not something that can be changed, at least quickly or easily. I believe that if we have a problem with someone, talking about their words and behaviours and actions are all fair game but denigrating people for their appearance is not. That is why I never share or retweet unflattering or embarrassing photos of anyone. This doesn’t stop me, however, from being intrigued by appearances and especially radical changes in appearance.

I think about this when I see old footage of Donald Trump. He is a good looking man with a nice smile and he sounds rational in some of the clips I have seen. Which begs the question, what happened between then and now? His facial expressions and body language seem to suggest an awkward, uncomfortable, and angry man.  He looks unhappy and many of his actions and words come from a mean spirited and defensive place. What happened to Donald to make him seem such a caricature of his former physical self? Is it that the farther away we get from our true genius (the purpose for which we have come here) the more distorted everything becomes, even our physical appearance? Or is it something else?

I don’t have the answers, but this I do know. Each of us has something genuine and true to our inner nature to offer. And this just happens to be what also makes us beautiful.

 

That Liminal Space

 

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As my mother enters the second week of being in hospital for breathing and heart issues, my life is lived in a liminal space. A liminal space is that time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next.’ It is a place of transition, waiting, and not knowing.

I have settled into the routine of going to the hospital and spending the afternoon with my mother. I’m becoming familiar with the dizziness I feel as I get off the elevator on the third floor and turn right towards her room. I have to stop and breathe deeply before making my way down the hall. It’s the not knowing what I will face when I enter the room. Will she be sitting up? Breathing on her own without oxygen? Quietly lying in her silent, conserving energy space?

Once in the room there is that blessed moment of connection when she recognizes me and her face lights up knowing that I am there to spend time with her. I while away the afternoon taking care of her needs which have been whittled down to cleaning her dentures and applying lip balm. I try and bring her news of the world – family stuff and the latest Mr. Trump drama.

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Most of the afternoon, however, is spent in quiet. I knit or text the family about her condition while she dozes. And so goes life this January with a deep freeze keeping most sensible people indoors and me tending, waiting, hoping, praying, loving.

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Be well and stay warm my friends.

It’s Good to Be Back

Our house is back to its pre-Christmas state except for a few poinsettias scattered here and there and a vase of pine boughs decorating the piano. Gone is the tree and one of the infant beds I borrowed and most of the toys on loan have been gathered in the entrance to be returned to their owners. That’s a wrap for another family Christmas.

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But as memories will, they linger. Looking out on the sliding hill this  morning, I can still see bundled up figures carrying the red plastic sleigh to the top for another, maybe faster, trip down. And as I awake in the dark of the early morning,  I think I hear the sounds of jet lagged babies filtering through the air from the other side of the house.

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This home, for a short while, held it all: chaos and excitement, long family dinners around the table after the babies had been bathed and put to bed, friends and family visiting.  As life will have it, it also had its dramas: the night the adventurous twin was stuck in the bathroom and the adults were orchestrating a rescue worthy of the navy seals, and then there was the call in the middle of the night that my ninety-six year old mother was in respiratory distress and might not make it until the morning.

After returning to the house from a long day spent in vigil over my mother who was now stabilized but still far from out of the woods, I sat on the couch watching my adult children in the kitchen bantering about who could make the ultimate sandwich. Tears welled up in my eyes. How could there be so much sorrow and joy all at the same time?  I thought of this paradox again as I was returning from another day at the hospital and saw the January full moon hanging impossibly large and pink over the pale blue mountains just below. Beauty and sadness holding hands, each compelling in very different ways.

Glennon Doyle Melton who writes a blog called Momastery and is the author of two memoir style books has coined the word “brutiful” for this phenomenon. Life is brutal and beautiful, sometimes both at the same time – maybe often both at the same time. I am wondering if it is love that allows us the grace to see the beauty in the brutal. I hope it is.

Happy New Year to you all. It’s good to be back.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

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As the days become impossibly short and the cold draws us indoors, I think about times gone by when life was lived at a slower pace.

I thought I’d share this poem written by Robert Frost in 1922 that captures a reflective moment by a man and his horse on the “darkest evening of the year”.

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Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.    

My little horse must think queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

 

Happy darkest evening of the year everyone!

If you listen carefully, you just might be able to hear those harness bells.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve Discovered That…

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I’ve discovered that:

The pre winter dark is full of an unbelievable richness. It slows and quietens. Promise and hope live here.

The dawn light is the most important light of these dark days before Solstice. Being awake for the beginning of the day makes the days feel a little longer and whole lot lighter.

Snow brightens and softens the world. Children recognize this – and some adults.

Community gatherings are what make Christmas special. Go to Christmas concerts, The Nutcracker, Christmas teas and bazaars… We all need each other, it’s what makes life rich and meaningful.

Music and the dark season are inseparable. Attend carol services, musical events, put music on as you sit by the fire at night. Music helps herald in the light.

You can’t really overdo Christmas lights or candles this time of year. It’s a way for us to all hold vigil until the light returns.

Being present to others is a great gift to give: listen, hold hands, smile.

Worrying about calories is not a good idea right now. This is the time for feasting and inviting friends and family and people without friends and family to our tables.

Taking time for yourself, treating yourself, is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves – and others. Happiness is contagious.

Being in the woods at this time of year, preferably on snowshoes or skis, is the very best meditation available during the holiday season. Stop and look at the animal tracks, listen to the Jays, feel your connection to the natural world.

Cookies and milk are Santa’s favourite….and everyone else’s too.

Being active together builds the very best memories. Build that snowman, go to the rink, play that board game.

Believing in Santa long past when you were a child helps to keep the magic of Christmas alive.

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‘Twas in the Moon of Winter-time…Music and Landscape

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I’ve been thinking about music and landscape during this dark time before Solstice.  Part of what has inspired me, these words from the Huron Christmas Carol:

‘Twas in the moon of winter-time when all the birds had fled,

That mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead.

Before their light the stars grew dim and wandering hunters heard the hymn…

Somehow the dark and barren pre-solstice landscape  seems to call for voices raised in chorus. A woman in my December Reflections photo group seemed to feel the same way and began adding music scores to the pictures I was posting. It felt just so…perfect to me and I thought I would share one of these with you to enjoy as well.

Here is the photo:

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And here is the music that she chose to go along with it.

 

It’s the seasonal message of light and hope relayed through music and landscape.

I remembered some of my old  favourite music after listening to this and dug out To Drive the Cold Winter Away by Canadian Loreena Mckennitt.

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And this album from King’s Choir Cambridge.

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Just feels right somehow to raise our voices in song at this time of year… or at least to enjoy others who do.